“And first place and the District 91 Humorous Speech Champion for 2015…Selina Jones”. I gasped and jumped out of my seat as the room applauded. I couldn’t believe I had won!
But actually, I hadn’t won at all. Or rather, I certainly hadn’t won on my own – this was a real team effort, as I think all Toastmaster’s contests are.
At the Club Contest we were called up to draw our order. Fellow contestant Richard said to me “Just remember, whatever place you draw, that’s the best one”. We drew, I was on second, Richard nodded. When I won the club contest and got handed my first ever trophy (in anything) I beamed. I skipped up to Helena who said she would help me prepare for Area – ”We’ve got a lot of work to do” she said and I took note.
At Area, I was nervous recognising Elizabeth, a formidable opponent. I drew to speak first, “that’s ok” I thought, “remember what Richard said”. When I ended up winning at Area, Elizabeth took me under her wing and as Area Champion, invited me to speak at her club for practice before Division.
So at an unfamiliar club a week later, I performed my speech. Offered the choice of an Evaluator or group/open forum feedback, I went with the latter and scribbled down everybody’s points. The key one was on staging– the audience is likely to be large so don’t stand in the middle and speak, make sure you speak to and focus on each section.
I arrived at Division, all the way in Bristol! I was lucky enough that my Area Director had offered to drive and look after his two champions (myself for the speech contest and Elizabeth, there for Table Topics). My heart sank when I saw the stage –a recessed area surrounded by walls, pillars and one lot of seats off to one side. Elizabeth and I took the time to get on the stage, walk around and come up with a plan – I had a bit about going into a basement, so I could step down off the stage, adding drama.
We drew for places. The people who drew first and last were both devastated – and from that moment on, they had effectively already lost the contest in their minds. I won from first place, I won from last, I won from the middle- “Just remember, whatever place you draw, that’s the best one”.
I stood on stage, I took a deep breath, sank my weight through my feet to feel grounded and then I began. That was another thing I was told – “don’t rush to start. Stand still, and when you are comfortable, begin”. I paid attention to staging, addressing left, right and centre. It is no surprise to me that the speakers in the top three were the ones who used the whole stage; the others stayed in the middle, ignoring the peculiarly angled section of the audience. Several contestants told me the staging really worked for me. I disagree – I made a conscious decision to make the staging work for me.
After I won, a man from a Cheltenham club approached me – “I will see you in the final, after all, you’re our girl now”.
The final. Swindon. I had the exact same outfit on that I’d worn since Area – down to my lucky panda socks. I had Elizabeth and Helena with me, and former competitors from Division. I explored the raised stage and saw where I could descend to the basement. As I studied, the Division contest chair gave me one last pointer – to feel and act as if I owned the stage when I got up there; that’s how I would win.
I drew my place; the best one, walked up on stage like I owned it in my winning outfit, grounded myself before I spoke and made sure I addressed remarks to every section of the wide audience.